Medicinal plants and drugs



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91. Artemisia vulgaris – Mugwort. It is a perennial, tall (1.5-2 m), ramified, pilose plant with an erect stem. Lower leaves are oval (5-10 cm), petiolate, there is a narrow lobed auricle at the base of the petiole. Leaves are lobed or pinnatifid and serrate. Stem leaves are sessile, 1-3 times pinnatisect, lobes are wider and tomentose on the underside. Top leaves are often tripartite. The yellow or red-brown flowers are borne in small capitula that are arranged in spiked nods. The receptacle is usually glabrous. It is a very widespread species, a real cosmopolitan plant. It is collected and cultivated as well. See Picture 91.

Drug: the stem in full flowering (Artemisiae [vulgaris] herba), and the root at the end of the vegetation cycle (Artemisiae [vulgaris] radix).

It was used as a vermifuge in the past. It is poisonous but causes less trouble than wormwood. It acts as a tonic and stimulant at first, then it is paralysing. It is a very common, widely spread weed; the flowering, 40 cm long young stem is to be harvested. Of its active ingredients, thujone damages the kidney and the nervous system (it contains 0.2% essential oil, among others cineole and thujone). It also has resin and bitter material. A lot of people mistake it for ragweed, but the underside of mugwort leaves are silvery, due to the dense white tomentose hairs. Ragweed is a seminiferous, annual plant, while mugwort is perennial. It can cause allergic symptoms but more rarely. For those sensitive to mugwort, even touching the plant can be fatal.

- It is an appetizer and a spice, a kind of marjoram substitute. It affects the digestive organs.

- It stimulates bile function; it is a neurotonic.

- The root is a tonic and an antispasmodic, helpful in treating chorea, hysteria and epilepsy.

Mugwort oil is used to make bitters, but absinth for example can cause physical and mental degradation.

92. Artemisia absinthium – Wormwood. It is a perennial, suffratescent, medium-sized or tall (1-1.5 m), silvery-grey tometose plant. The stem is erect, basal leaves are long-petioled, stem leaves are sessile. Leaves are bi- or tripinnatisect, lobes are wider, oval-lanceolate. Top leaves are ternate or entire. The auricle is absent at the base of the petiole. Its yellow flowered capitula are arranged in spiked panicles; the receptacle is fuzzy and woolly. It flowers in July-August. See Pictures 92 a, 92 b.

Drug: the dried leaves (Absinthii folium), the 50 cm long flowering top (Absinthii herba) when the plant is in full bloom. More rarely the whole stem above ground is harvested (Absinthii herba cum caule). It contains essential oil (Aetheroleum absinthii).

It has lost ground in modern therapeutics. It is blended with other herbs in tea mixtures. Its leaves and flowering stem were harvested. Its active ingredients absinthin and artabsine are narcotic bitter materials; it also contains amber acid, tujil alcohol and santonin. It causes a strong motoric restlessness and sensual disorders; it has also paralysing effects.

- It is appetisant, digestant and carminative; it increases stomach acid and bile production.

- It is also used for flavouring in some spirits and wines, especially bitters and vermouth. In France, absinthe was banned in 1915 due to its alleged degrading effects on the nervous system but the ban was repealed in 2011.

93. Tussilago farfara – Coltsfoot. It is a perennial, stoloniferous, short plant with a creeping rhizome. Its stem, which is in flower early spring, is covered with oval-lanceolate scale leaves. Leaves are large and only appear later, by the end of flowering, they are cordate-rounded, slightly pinnatilobed, unevenly serrate. The underside of leaves is tomentose. Ray flowers are very narrow, linear, arranged in several rows. It also has disc flowers. The pappus is several times as long as the fruit. See Pictures 93 a, 93 b.

Drug: the leaves (Farfarae folium) and the inflorescence (Farfarae flos, Farfarae anthodium). The inflorescence is harvested at the beginning of flowering when the flowering stem is still short, because flowers harvested later may easily fall apart. Leaves are harvested in the first half of summer without the petioles. The drugs contain mucilage, flavonoids and triterpene derivatives. Of the pirrolizidine alcohols senkirkin and tussilagin are toxic.

It is a very tenacious weed, growing primarily on moist, disturbed areas.

- Its tea is effectively used in treating respiratory diseases.

- Leaves are smoked in pipes by people suffering from asthma to alleviate whooping coughs.

94. Petasites hybridus – Common butterbur. It is a herbaceous, perennial plant with horizontally running rhizomes. Basal leaves are cordate-rounded or cordate-reniform, large (10-50 cm wide), long petiolate (50-70 cm), unevenly short dentate, greyly tomentose on the underside. It is dioecious but has perfect flowers too. The exclusively female flowers are meat-red or purplish-pink, male flowers are whitish, blooming before the leaves appear, in March-April. In Hungary it is not cultivated, there are no varieties. It grows by streams and on mountain meadows. See Picture 94.

Drug: the rhizome with the roots (Petasitidis rhizoma), and the leaves (Petasitidis folium). It is used by the pharmaceutical industry, it is not available in small trade. Its active ingredients are alcoholic sesquiterpens, flavonoids, saponins, mucilage and tannins. Within the species there are chemotypes in which petasin is present or absent. Its pirrolizidine alcohols are toxic.

- It is an analgesic and antispasmodic, used in treating breathing and asthmatic spasms and whooping coughs. It is mucigoge and diaphoretic. It is used as a gargle for sore throat.

- It is helpful in cases of gastro-intestinal complaints of neurotic origin and spastic migraines.



95. Calendula officinalis – Pot marigold. It is an annual, herbaceous, medium-sized (40-60 cm) plant with a square stem. Leaves are oblong-lanceolate, weekly dentate, slightly fleshy. Its terminal capitula are 3-6 cm in diameter, consisting of yellow or orange ray flowers. Only the flowers on the edges of the capitula are fertile. The achene is thorny curved, strigose and scabrous, of varied shapes and sizes, even within a single inflorescence. See Picture 95.

Drug: the whole inflorescence (Calendulae flos cum calycibus), or the ray flowers picked from the capitulum (Calendulae flos sine calycibus). An extract is made of the flowers (Extractum Calendulae fluidum).

It is used both as a home remedy and as an industrial material. It is a well-known ingredient in cosmetics. Its fresh and dried flowers are added to tea mixtures for colouring. Rubbed with salt it is used to colour cheese and butter. Its active ingredients are flavonoids, carotenoids, some essential oil, triterpenes, 2-3% saponin, bitter materials, calenduline dye and salicilic acid.

- It is effective in preventing gastro-intestinal ulcers.

- It is used externally to treat bruised and ragged wounds.

- It is an excellent remedy of skin rashes; it stops itching.

- In case of phlebitis, the inflorescence has to be cooked in fat to make an ointment.

- It stimulates bile production and cures cholecystitis (inflammation of the gall-bladder).

- It is helpful in treating bronchitis.

- It is used as a gargle in sore throat or as a mouthwash for gingivitis.

- According to some reports, cancerous chest tumours and uterine cancer were effectively treated with marigold blended to a herbal mixture and a poultice.

- It is an excellent remedy of fungal diseases of the skin, nails and mycoderms.



96. Arctium lappa – Greater burdock (Gobo). It is a biennial, tall (1-2 m) plant with bulky, fleshy roots and a tall, ramified, robust, ribbed stem. Lower leaves are large, arranged in a rosette, petiolate, cordate-oval, unevenly dentate, with cordate bases and acute apices. The underside of leaves is greyly tomentose, the petiole is solid. Capitula have long peduncles, are globular and arranged in corymbs. The involucres are  glabrous, curving at the top to form a hook, extenuate-linear. Flowers are purple-red. See Picture 96.

Drug: first-year roots harvested in autumn or spring (Bardaneae radix), which are greyish-white and solid in the centre, and become spongoid and hollow in the second year. The other two species Arctium minus (lesser burdock) and A. tomentosum (woolly burdock) are also collectible.

It develops in two years, the rhizome is harvested in the first year. Its active ingredients are tannin, resin, sterine, inuline, mucilage and bitter materials.

- Its tea is diuretic, diaphoretic and alterative; it prevents rheumatism and dilutes renal stones.

- It improves the meatbolism; it is blended to herb mixtures to treat liver and bile complaints.

- It has antibilious and bile-stone diluting properties as well.

- It is used externally to treat skin diseases (herpes, ringworm, eczema) and sore throat, but it is also an excellent hair care in cases of falling hair, dandruff and greasy hair.

According to German scientists its polyacetilenes are antibacterial and antifungal. This effect diminishes in the dried drug because of lower active substance content, but it may still be helpful in treating gonorrhoea, urinary and skin infections. It is one of the foremost detoxifying herbs.

Another of its compounds, arctigenin inhibited tumour development. According to studies it supplants mutagenous materials from the cells, and most mutagenous substances are carcinogenic. This therapy should not be applied without medical supervision.

97. Centaurea cyanus – Cornflower. It is an annual, slender, middle-sized (40-60 cm) plant covered with arachnoid grey hairs, with a ramified stem. Lower leaves are lanceolate, attenuate, loosely dentate or lobed and pinnatipartite. Upper ones are entire, linear and sessile. Its blue capitula are solitary and circ. 3 cm in diameter. The back of involucres is unribbed, outer ones are oval-shaped with a triangular, black appendix on top and brown or silver, short fringes. Its achene (3-5 mm) is bone-white or bluish-grey, with an apical crown of hairs. See Picture 97.

Drug: the flowers picked from the capitula (Cyani flos).

It is a common weed in untreated areas, mainly in cereals. The infusion of the flowers is used. Dried flowers are often blended to tea mixtures for decorative purposes. Its drug is centaurine (cnicin); it also contains bitter material and anthocyane dye.

- It is used as a gargle and eye-poultice. It used to be added to “fumigator flower mixtures”.

- It is blended with herbs to make antispasmodic, tonic and appetisant tea mixtures.

98. Cnicus benedictus – St. Benedict’s thistle (Blessed thistle). It is an annual, cultivated plant, native to the Mediterranean and the Middle East. The stem is square, ramified, often procumbent (30-50 cm). Leaves are petiolate at the bottom, sessile at the top, 10-30 cm long, lanceolate, sinuate and have small spines on the margin. The whole plant is glandular and floccose. Its oval-shaped terminal capitula are surrounded by numerous spiny basal bracts, and mostly the inner involucres have long lanate margins and ramified spiny ends. The flat achene is covered with white, silky hairs. Disc flowers are yellow, sterile on the outside. It flowers in June-July. The achene is 7-10 mm long, slightly curved, brownish, with a dentate wreath and a yellowish, setose pappus on top. Populations of different origins are cultivated. All climates are suitable for the plant, but it grows best in sunny, lee-side areas. See Picture 98.

Drug: the flowering stem (Cardui [Cnici] benedicti herba).

Its active ingredients are bitter materials, sesquiterpene (cnicin) 0.2-0.3%, mucilage 5-10 %, tannins 8-10 % and essential oil.

- It has beneficial effects on diseases of the digestive system; it is an appetizer and digestant.

- It can be used to increase bile production and for heartburn.

- It is a stimulant in case of neuropathy; it is blended to febrifugal herb mixtures.

It should not be applied in case ofnephritis. Its bitter taste may be unpalatable; it can cause nausea. Its powder is an irritant and expectorant. It is also used to make tincture and wine.

99. Cichorium intybus – Common chicory. It is a perennial, tall, ramified plant with a square, twig-like stem. Lower leaves are attenuate, linear-lanceolate, runcinately lobed or pinnatifid, loosely serrate, densely bristled on the underside. Upper leaves are sessile, lanceolate or oval and apiculate. Its capitula consist only of blue ray flowers, borne on top of the stem or in leaf axils. There are two rows of involucral bracts, which can be glandular. The achenes have no pappus but do have toothed scales on top. It is a very common plant of uncultivated areas. It is cultivated not as a medicinal herb but for other purposes. See Picture 99.

Drug: the dried root (Cichorii radix) and the flowering shoot (Cichorii herba).

It grows on roadsides. Its improved varieties are used to make coffee substitutes. Consumption of too much chicory may lead to haemorrhoidal complaints since it negatively affects vascular tonicity. Roots and the 40 cm long stem are harvested. Its active ingredients are inulin, cichoriin, intibin, choline, and sugar. Its bitter material is lactucapicrin, which affects the nervous system as a tranquilliser when absorbed. It is contained in the root in larger quantities.

- It is an appetisant and a digestant.

- It alleviates bile and liver complaints as it drives out unnecessary bile and water.

- It purifies the liver, spleen and kidney.

- It lowers blood pressure.

- It was a favourite home remedy for hysteria and hipochondria.

- It is applied externally as a poultice on inflamed eyes combined with cornflower.

100. Taraxacum officinale – Common dandelion. It is a perennial, short, milky plant with a rosette and several scapes. Its basal leaves are obovate or lanceolate, deeply runcinate, lobes are deflecting,  triangle-shaped. The scape has one capitulum and is hollow, long and glabrous. Outer involucres are projecting or reflexed even when young, they are not wider than the inner ones, they have no white edges and no tiny horn under the top. The pappus is white, flowers are yellow. Widely grown plants are collected. See Picture 100.

Drug: the root system (Taraxaci radix), the leaves (Taraxaci folium), the root system and the basal leaves together (Taraxaci herba cum radix).

Its fresh leaves are used for salads; in case of arthritic pains, it can be eaten as a vegetable. Biologically active substances like inulin, taraxacin, taraxacerin, bitter material, caoutchouc, wax, tannin, and colin, are contained in the root and leaves. The milky latex contains lactucapicrin, leontodin, saponin, mucilage, and Vitamins C and B2. The roots may have up to 40% of inulin in autumn. The mature leaves and the second-year rhizome can be harvested.

- It is appetisant, digestant and stomachic.

- It is diuretic and alterative; it is helpful in treating kidney and bladder complaints.

- It stimulates bile function and lipid metabolism.

- Its tea is used as a liver remedy.

- In cases of high blood pressure and stagnating heart failure its diuretic effects are very helpful. It should be applied under medical supervision.

- It contains a lot of vitamin A and some vitamin C, and also high levels of potassium salts and therefore can replace the potassium that is lost from the body when diuretics are used.

- Its antioxidants are anti-cancerous, e.g., in prostate cancer, but further research is necessary.

- It may be helpful in treating diabetes as it lowers blood sugar levels but medical supervision is required.

It may cause skin rashes in sensitive people. Its tea is recommended for rheumatic and arthritic pains. Its flowers picked at midday are used to make honey with some added sugar.



101. Silybum marianum – Milk thistle. In its native Mediterranean home it is a perennial, but in Hungary it is cultivated as an annual plant. It is a herbaceous plant with a taproot. The stem is erect, ramified, tall (1.5-2.5 m). The procumbent rosette consists of large, stiff sessile leaves. Leaves are elliptic, either lobate or pinnate, with spiny edges. Leaves look spotted, marbled because there is chlorophyll-free leaf-tissue along the veins. The inflorescence is large (5-8 cm), oval, flowers are purple, sometimes white, borne individually on top of the stems. The outer involucres end in strong, stiff spines. It flowers from late June. The achene is curved, large (8 x 4 mm), brown with light spots and a brush-like pappus. There is no state recognized purple variety in cultivation, the white-flowered “Szibilla” variety was registered in 1997. It prefers sunny, warm areas; it can be sown only in spring, autumn sowing is winterkilled. It should not be sown on weak sandy soil; it is tender to strong winds. Its dispersed seeds are viable for a long time, causing weediness. See Picture 101.

Drug: the mature fruit (Cardui mariani fructus), and the leaves (Cardui mariani folium), mostly harvested earlier.

Its active ingredients are 2-5% flavonoids like silibin, silidianin, silichristin, silimarin, and also bitter materials, resins and fatty acids.

- It is used to make medicines for spleen, bile, and liver complaints; it protects the liver.

It has to be harvested when the capitula are ripe on the side shoots as well, involucres are dried, the pappus is white in the middle of the inflorescence and fruits are already brown.

Loranthaceae – The mistletoe family. P 2+2 or 3+3 A 4 or 6 G (). They are woody, sometimes herbaceous, green hemiparasites that live on trees. Leaves are opposite or whorled, flowers are borne between two leaves in the branch axis, with a tiny green or whitish perianth. The fruit is a pseudo-berry, the achene walls are pituitous.



102. Viscum album – European (Common) mistletoe. It is a hemiparasitic evergreen plant, forming large (60-100 cm) bushes on tree branches. The repeated pseudodichotomous ramification of branches with short internodes is a characteristic trait. The individual internodes are also green. Leaves are opposite, green-yellow, thick, coriaceous, glabrous, entire, sessile, obtuse at the top, attenuate at the base. They are obovate or lanceolate. It is a dioecious plant with tiny flowers; the male flowers are more conspicuous. The fruit is a pea-sized, white, opaque, sticky pseudo-berry. It matures in late autumn and is propagated by birds. See Picture 102. Pseudo-berries of yellow mistletoe, which is also a tree-parasite, are pale yellow, its leaves fall in autumn and its stem is greyish black.

Drug: the leaves (Visci folium) or the leafy stem (Visci albae stipes).

In German mythology an arrow made of mistletoe was used to kill the god of peace, Baldur, who was revived by Odin and Frigga. According to popular belief, one who passes under a mistletoe must be kissed. According to other legends, it was the wood of the cross, and as a punishment, it has to live as a parasite. The fruit has a thick, sticky sap, it used to be called bird-lime. Its thin, leafy shoots are to be harvested from autumn till spring, which contain viscotoxin, viscin alkaloid, siringenin, siringaresinol, resin, resin alcohol, and gum-like materials.

- In Germany it is the medicine of choice to lower blood pressure and heart-rate in early stages; it is also acardiac mitigant and antispasmodic. In some cases it can raise blood pressure.

- It is helpful in alleviating internal bleeding (lungs, uterus). American Indians used it to induce abortion; it can induce uterine contractions during labour. Its recommended dose is close to the lethal one, so it can be used only by medical supervision. Pregnant women should avoid it.

- It strengthens the immune system, thanks to it cells damaged by X-rays regenerate faster. It is anticancerous in case of lung and ovary cancer; in Germany, it is an ingredient in three antitumor injections. Its advantage is that it is tolerated by the body much better than chemotherapeutic substances, it is not toxic. It should not be given to children, elderly people and people treated with antidepressants, and medical supervision is always required.

Caryophyllaceae – The carnation family. K 5 v. (5) C 5 A 5+5 G (5-2). They are herbaceous plants with decussate leaves. Flowers are perfect, rarely imperfect, pentamerous, with five whorls, i.e., there are two whorls of stamens. The fruit is a polynuclear capsule, sometimes a berry or a nutlet. Flowers are usually borne in a compound cymose inflorescence.

103. Gypsophila paniculata – Baby’s breath. It is a perennial plant with a taproot (as long as 2 m); it is 40-100 cm tall, strongly ramified from the bottom, loosely spherical. It easily breaks at the nods. The plant is glabrous, the stem is only pilose at the base. Leaves are grey-green, lanceolate, apiculate, entire. The inflorescence is a many-flowered panicoid cymose umbel. Flowers are tiny white, the calyx is strigose. It flowers from June on. The capsule dehisces with a tooth. In Hungary it is mostly collected, but can be cultivated as well. The flowering stems are also harvested for ornamental purposes. See Picture 103.

Drug: the peeled and dried root (Saponariae albae radix), which is listed in the pharmacopoea as “white Hungarian soaproot”.

It contains 10-20 % saponins, one of their derivatives is oleanolic acid.

- It is a strong mucigoge, used to make an expectorant liquid medicine.

- It is used as a foaming agent in soaps and toothpastes.

104. Saponaria officinalis – Common soapwort. It is a perennial, stoloniferous, middle-sized, bushy plant with an ascendant stem, which is usually not ramified or only toward the top. Leaves are elliptic or lanceolate, acute, attenuate at the basis and three-veined. The white or pink flowers have short peduncles and form a cymose umbel. The calyx is united, cylindrical, with short teeth and sparse hairs. The petal is large, clawed, there are side-petals as well. See Picture 104.

Drug: the flowering stem (Saponariae rubrae herba), the rhizome and the root (Saponariae rubrae radix). The root contains various saponins while the herba contains saporubrin.

- It is a strong mucigoge. It should be used only by medical supervision.

105. Stellaria media – Common chickweed. It is an annual, short or medium-sized plant, with an ascendant or prostate, strongly ramified stem. Its cylindrical stem has one, sometimes two strips of hairs. Leaves are oval-cordate, lower ones are petiolate, upper ones are sessile, relatively small, soft, glabrous, middle and lower ones have ciliate margins. Its white flowers are borne in leaf axils on long peduncles. Sepals are usually pilose and broad, with membraneous margins. There are three pistils, the oblong capsule dehisces with six teeth. See Picture 105. The flower of the similar water chickweed has five pistils, the capsule dehisces with five double teeth.

Drug: the flowering stem above ground (Stellariae herba). Its active ingredients are saponins, salts and essential oils.

It is a common weed that is able to germinate after each rainfall, several times a year. Its roots are shallow, its presence in crops is not necessarily harmful.

- Its tea is a home remedy for kidney and bile complaints. It is diuretic and dilutes stones.

3.7.1. Test question

96. What is the difference between mugwort and wormwood?

97. Why is caution necessary when applying Artemisia species?

98. How would you differentiate between early blooming coltsfoot and dandelion?

99. When does butterbur bloom and what is its inflorescence like?

100. What is the most effective drug of pot marigold?

101. When is the drug of greater burdock harvested? Can it be confused with other species?

102. Where can cornflower be collected in larger quantities?

103. The leaves and flowers of which herbs of the Compositae (daisy) family are spiky?

104. What is the difference between the inflorescence of St. Benedict’s and milk thistle?

105. It is a plant with blue ray flowers, growing in uncultivated areas. What is its improved variety used for?

106. Basal leaves of both dandelion and common chicory are runcinate. How do you differentiate between the two?

107. When is common mistletoe harvested? Why cannot it be mistaken for yellow mistletoe?

108. What is the difference between the underground parts of baby’s breath and soapwort?

109. What is the difference between the inflorescences of baby’s breath and soapwort? Which one is an ornamental?

110. How would you differentiate between common chickweed and water chickweed?

3.8. 8. From Cowslip to Sweet flag

Primulaceae – The primrose family. K (5) C (5) A 0+5 G (5). Herbaceous plants with generally alternate leaves and no stipules. Flowers are usually actinomorphic, the fruit is a capsule. Flowers are mostly borne in cymose umbels.


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